Monday, July 12, 2010

Breakin' the Rules

"Coyote World" Coyote - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


I wrote an article that appeared in the Summer 2007 issue

of Nature Photographer magazine

about breaking rules of photography.

The following post contains excerpts from that article

and relates to my image, "Coyote World?

How many times have you heard someone comment, or for that matter done so yourself, about avoiding “butt shots?”

Sure, we’ve all done it. In fact, it’s been touted for so long and by so many, that butt shots are at the top of the list of things to avoid when photographing wildlife, especially those instances when the subject is looking away from the camera and there is no eye contact.

Following a visit to Yellowstone several years ago, I finally came to the conclusion that it’s time that we reevaluate this thinking.

The catalyst came one evening as I sat in my hotel room reviewing images of a coyote made earlier that the day in the Lamar Valley. It was one of those scenarios that you dream about . . . beautiful lighting, sculpted snow, and subject adorned in winter’s finest.

One of the images depicted a coyote looking away from the camera, but I liked it. Michael Wilhelm, a friend who had been shooting with me that day, liked it too.

This was not the first time that I had ever made an image with the subject looking away from the camera. Why then, were images such as this so compelling?

Following weeks of deliberation, I began to realize that I was not just taking pictures of subjects with their backs to the camera.

The coyote image was more than a landscape featuring a coyote, albeit one featuring the back of my subject’s head. It depicted the world as observed by coyote at a particular moment in time and allowed the viewer to glimpse this world from coyote’s perspective.

Would the image have had the same impact had I not included the coyote in the image? . . . in particular, with it’s head turned away from the camera? I think not.

Consider if you will — when you view a landscape from over your subject’s shoulder, you are actually seeing the world as seen by the subject. If you fail to include the subject in the image, there is no point of reference.

If the subject happens to be a predator as was the case with the coyote, this can often impart an element of drama to an image and give rise to any number of thought-provoking questions. Did the coyote’s acute hearing pick up the sound of a rodent foraging beneath the snow’s surface? Was coyote making last minute adjustments before pouncing on its next meal? or, was coyote simply reveling in the beauty of the landscape spread out before both of us?

Go to my online Gallery of limited edition wildlife photographs and read the haiku I wrote about Coyote and this image.

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